Suddenly Sergio

By Jason SobelNovember 1, 2011, 4:22 pm

The most important part of Sergio Garcia's second consecutive European Tour victory was neither his continued ball-striking brilliance nor his unforeseeable resurgence on the greens.

It was his fist-pump.

To be clear, it wasn’t the technical aspect of his celebratory form that was so meaningful. It was the emotion he displayed in the process.

When Garcia holed the clinching putt at Valderrama to win by one stroke on Sunday and back up a title at his hometown course eight days earlier, there was no subdued, benign reaction to his achievement. Instead, he elicited a mammoth roar accompanied by a ferocious fist-pump – the reflection of a man who wanted nothing more than to taste victory once again.

That may sound like the standard response for anyone who competes for a living, but it wasn’t always this way for Sergio. In order to truly appreciate the moment, we have to look at all of those moments before it when winning – and even just competing – meant so little.

One year ago, he was ensconced in a self-imposed leave of absence. If that sounds strange, it should. College professors take sabbaticals, not professional golfers. He wasn’t feeling passion for the game anymore, though, and so he went cold-turkey and stopped competing.

Then again, maybe it shouldn’t sound so strange. Garcia has never measured his self-worth by success, once responding to a question about the importance of winning a major championship by contending, “It's important, but it's not the main thing in my life. If I don't win a major championship, it doesn't mean that I'm going to be unhappy or less happy than I will be if I do.”

And so he stopped playing in pursuit of happiness. He spent quality time with family, celebrated friends’ birthdays and played soccer. He served as an assistant captain for the victorious European Ryder Cup team. He did everything but play golf.

When he returned, Garcia was hardly a relaxed, refreshed version of his former self. On the contrary, he was still an angst-ridden enigma who wasn’t completely positive that competing again served his best interests.

On a blustery day in New York City in February, during a promotional appearance for his equipment manufacturer, he manifested as what has so often been described as the stereotypical Sergio, which is to say he was surly, moody, petulant and whiny.

He was also honest to a fault, his long-ingrained method of failing to sugarcoat any subject still very much alive. This is a man who once suggested that the golf gods had robbed him of capturing the Open Championship. So often he was a public relations nightmare and a journalist’s dream.

Asked that day to handicap his break from the game, he confidently claimed, “It was great. It was awesome. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.”

When prodded to elaborate, he added, “You get to travel a lot, you get to meet a lot of nice people, but at the same time you miss a lot of things to do. What people don't realize, they look at you and say, ‘He's only been playing for 11 or 12 years.’ But it's not true. I've been traveling and missing Christmas and missing friends' birthdays – things like that – since I was 12. So after a while, you do need a little bit of a break to kind of see things a little clearer.” Read between the lines and you’ll see someone who wishes that break had never ended.

Fast forward six months and Garcia is once again in the greater Metropolitan area, but his frame of mind is a world away from that previous encounter. His churlishness has been replaced by joviality; his angst disintegrated into serenity.

Once again, he speaks openly about his struggle to find a balance between his personal and professional lives, but he does so with a smile on his face. Rather than subsisting inside that vortex of pressure, there’s a sense that it is all a part of the past, a time in his life he can still discuss, but is no longer battling.

“I feel much better about myself,” he said in August, just before The Barclays. “I try not to take things as seriously. Don’t get me wrong – that doesn’t mean that I’m not trying and I’m not giving it my best out there, but that’s how I’m taking it. I give it my best and sometimes my best is not that good. I’ve just got to deal with it. And then when my best is in good shape, then I’m out there contending like we’ve done this year in four or five tournaments. I’m excited about it. I’m obviously enjoying the game a lot more than I probably did the last couple of years and I’m just looking forward to keep going in this same direction.”

At the time, it wasn’t difficult to foresee impending success for Garcia. He has now delivered on that premonition, claiming a pair of titles in consecutive weeks and ascending to 18th on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Sure, there may be technical parts of his game that are flourishing more than in the past. His drives may be going straighter and deeper, his iron shots may be more precise, his putting may be armed with more confidence.

Such talents have always endured for Sergio, though. His current success is all about desire and attitude; it’s about clearing mental hurdles in order to allow the physical gifts to thrive in competition.

That’s why his reaction on Sunday was so important. That celebratory fist-pump wasn’t just the culmination of triumph over a field of opponents; it was the culmination of triumph over himself. This is a man who has overcome multiple obstacles in the past 12 months, the least of which isn’t his ambition toward winning – and even just competing – both of which meant so little not so long ago.

When asked about this newfound perspective after his victory, he said, “I’m just happy with my year. We all know how difficult golf is. This is a working process; I’ll keep working on it, and trying hard and enjoying it.”

The talent of Sergio Garcia is obvious – always has been, always will be. If his enjoyment and desire remain, success will continue to follow.

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without making a bogey on the Plantation Course or the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

Cook was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back.

Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018

Those plans changed after a few weeks.

“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.

“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.

Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.

The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.

“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.

S.H. Park (65) builds three-shot lead at LPGA finale

By Doug FergusonNovember 17, 2017, 9:58 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Golf felt so easy to Sung Hyun Park that only when she took out her card to catch up on her scores did she realize she had closed out the front nine with five straight birdies at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Park kept right on attacking.

The 24-year-old from South Korea added a 30-foot eagle putt late in her second round and finished with a 7-under 65, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at Tiburon Golf Club.

Nothing seems to bother her, even the chance to cap off an amazing rookie season by sweeping all the big awards on the LPGA Tour.

''To be honest, I don't feel quite as nervous as I thought I would,'' Park said through an interpreter. ''After the first shot, after the first hole, I felt a lot more comfortable. I'm not feeling as nervous as I thought I might be going into today.''

Leave that to the players chasing her.

Even with a three-putt bogey on the final hole, Park was at 12-under 132 and was three shots clear of Caroline Masson (66) and Sarah Jane Smith (69).

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

More importantly, none of the other players in the chase for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus or any other big award was within five shots of Park, who is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win LPGA player of the year.

Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, shot a 67 and wound up losing ground. She was six shots behind and must stay within 10 shots of Park to win the Vare.

So Yeon Ryu, who leads the points-based award for player of the year, managed a 71 with her sore right shoulder but was 11 shots back.

The other two players who need to win the tournament to collect the $1 million bonus also had their work cut out for them. Brooke Henderson had another 70 and was eight shots behind, while world No. 1 Shanshan Feng shot 73 and was 11 shots behind.

Park was in control, only she didn't see it that way.

''I don't think it's quite that far of a lead,'' Park said. ''Two, three shots of a lead can change at any moment. We will have to see what's in store for this weekend.''

Park began her big run with an 18-foot birdie on No. 5, got up-and-down for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 sixth, holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, and then closed out the front nine with birdie putts from 8 feet and 15 feet.

''I actually didn't know that I was going five birdies in a row,'' Park said. ''Come hole No. 10, I realized that I hadn't been jotting down my scores as diligently, and so I realized it a little bit later on. And it felt great.''

That gave her the lead by one shot over Suzann Pettersen, except that Pettersen faded badly on the back nine.

Pettersen dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch by getting out of position off the tee and she shot 39 on the back nine for a 70 to fall five shots behind.

''I feel like I'm playing good,'' Pettersen said. ''Three bad drives on the back nine cost me four shots. That should not be possible on this course, where the fairways are about 100 yards wide.''

Park was honored at an awards banquet Thursday night as the LPGA rookie of the year. Now, she has more awards in her sights. A victory would give her the award for player of the year. She would capture the money title, which she leads over Ryu. And depending on how the weekend goes, she might be able to surpass Thompson in the race for the Vare Trophy.

Thompson did well to recover from two bogeys on her opening three holes.

''I hit a few really erratic shots in the beginning. It wasn't a good start to the round,'' Thompson said. ''Just tried to stay positive and find something that could work for the last 14, 15 holes.''

Lydia Ko fell six shots behind in her bid to avoid a winless season. She was one shot behind going into the second round but managed only three birdies in her round of 71.

Park, meanwhile, had everything going her way. Even when she pulled her drive on the par-5 14th into a sandy area with a root next to her ball, she picked it clear and sent it through a goal post of trees back to the fairway. Three holes later, she blasted a drive and had only a 7-iron into the green at the par-5 17th, which she hit to 30 feet and made the long putt.

Does anything make her nervous?

''I hate spiders,'' she said. ''But in terms of golf, I always get nervous to this day on the first tee. I can feel my heart pounding.''

It's a feeling that doesn't appear to last very long.

Korda sisters poised to make a run at CME

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 9:47 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Jessica Korda wasn’t feeling well making her way around the CME Group Tour Championship battling congestion Friday, but the leaderboard walking to the ninth tee gave her a nice lift.

That’s where she saw younger sister Nelly’s name tucked right next to hers.

They were within a shot of each other amid hard charges up the leaderboard, with Nelly playing just in front of her.

“I was like, 'Dang!’ It was good to see,” said Jessica, 24. “It’s fun to see her playing this well. I know what she puts into it. I’m kind of jealous of the rookie year she’s having, because mine sucked.”

Nelly, 19, is looking to put a special ending on her first year on tour. She posted a 6-under-par 66, good for a tie for fourth, six shots behind Sung Hyun Park (65). Nelly has given herself a weekend shot at her first victory.

Just a year ago, Nelly was here as a spectator, watching her sister.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I found it funny,” Nelly said. “I was walking to the range on Tuesday, thinking just last year, people were asking me, 'When are you going to be out here?’ It seems surreal to be out here, playing alongside my sister and the best players in the world.

“Being in contention is really, really special.”

Jessica shot 68 and sits a shot behind her sister.

Nelly said seeing the leaderboard gave her a lift, too.

“Maybe it amps me up just a little bit,” Nelly said. “It’s a friendly competition. Even though we want each other to succeed, we also want to beat each other. I think she would say that, too.”

Jessica is seeking her fifth LPGA title. She’s coming off a tie for third at the Blue Bay LPGA last week.

Jessica is 35th on the LPGA money list this year, with $515,521 in earnings. Nelly is 51st, with $388,983 in earnings.

“I definitely look for Jess on the board,” Nelly said. “We’ve very supportive of each other.”